Introduction: El Wire Easy Foam Board Logos and Words for All Skill Levels

El Wire is awesome!

However the majority of common El Wire uses require sewing skills. Sewing is not a skill commonly possessed by school age users any more. This Instructable seeks to offer an alternative to sewing: Foam board. This instructable seeks to introduce beginning users to El Wire with a no sew, no solder technique.

Foam board can be used by all users (ie anyone who can use an exacto knife).
No soldering is required IF the project is made with one color.

Step 1: Supplies

Cost is usually less than $25

El Wire
There are tons of Internet options. I have received excellent service and quality materials from Adafruit.
On the brick and mortar side, Radio Shack now stocks El Wire (blue, white, red). Hopefully, you have other options in your area as well.
$10 for power pack   Various prices for wires $10-20    Buying as a set is a great way to save money.

Foam Board is available from most any hobby store.  $5

Exacto knife (sharp one!)

Soldering has it's own materials on optional steps pages.

Step 2: Brainstorm the Word or Picture

Understanding El Wire limits
El wire is flexible, but does NOT like to bend at right angles. (It will break the internal wires.)
This means that the design needs to be more 'organic" so it has no 90 bends.

The length of the wire is also a factor. 3 meters (XXXXXX inches ) is the limit of what a battery powered version will effectively light up. Projects may have to be scaled smaller. (A copy machine may be handy for this.)

Generally, an El wire project will likely fit on US plain or Legal paper.
In a class project, it would be worth having students use string to connect all the points so that the 3 meter rule.

Multi-color sounds fun, but it's best to match your soldering skills with your imagination. (This example will be similified later.)

Step 3: Optional: Practice the Cuts

Practicing on a scrap always makes for a nicer final product.

The best way to describe this technique might be to
a) break the surface with the knife on the first pass of the "left" side
b) cut again more deeply
c) break the surface with the knife on the first pass of the "right" side
d) cut again more deeply
e) scrape out the groove until smooth

Step 4: Cut Into the Foam Board

It's easiest to cut through a paper copy taped onto the board.
Technique is discussed in the previous step.
Keep a scrap piece of wire around to slide in the groove making sure it's neither too big, nor too small.

Step 5: Add Wires

It important to plan the connection between letters. Assuming your plan allows for some wiggle room on length, you should be able to avoid sharp turns. It is also best if the wire doesn't go straight down- rather it's best if the wire angles down through the foam board so it will lay flat. Guide the wire down at an angle with a small pilot hole through the board- using a scrap to poke the right hole size.

Step 6: Optional: Solder If Combining Different Color Wires

Many fine tutorials are on Instructables and the Internet on this topic.
Adafruit has a good one:

Step 7: Optional- Glue Wire Down

The wire might not sit flat in the grooves if:
-the gooves are too wide
-the wire angles straight down
Sometimes merely letting the wire sit over night will allow the wire to relax and stay in place.

Hot glue becomes an option if the wire won't stay down.
I like to mask off the area with post its for easy cleaning. It's a cleaner look if the glue doesn't show on top.

In most cases glue can be avoided if care is taken in making the groove. (Do it right the first time!)

Step 8: Optional: Cover Back

Covering the back protects the wires, and also makes it easier to hold.
Add a layer of foam board everywhere the wires aren't.
Then add another layer of foam board the same size as the front.
Foam board may not be the best glue since it cools before it's been applied everywhere.

You may also want to leave a gap for a binder clip, which is also useful for hanging the power supply on particularly if hanging from a suction cup in the car window. The whole unit is very light so it will hang on any clean window.

Step 9: Optional: Add a Sound Activated Flasher

If you want the lights to flash to music, add a sound activated pocket invertor.
This will also require a different power supply.

It's perfect for "dance" environments. It's also another layer of complexity...

Step 10: Enjoy! Brainstorm Again! Keep on Making!

Looks great by day. Looks even better at night.

I"m too late for the glowing contest, but I hoped you enjoyed reading as much as I did making.
What will you make? What do you cheer for? Could this be better than a sports team trophy for soccer, football, basketball, baseball or other sport?

Show off what you make in the comments!